by Hibberd Kline
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China– According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of Tibetans returning from India have been arbitrarily detained and now face “political re-education.”
The detainees were part of a group of 7,000 Tibetans who were granted permission by the Chinese government to attend teaching sessions held by the Dali Lama in Bihar, India. The travelers reportedly possessed all the necessary documentation for the journey including Chinese-issued passports.
At first, human rights groups hailed the initial travel grant as a relaxation of Chinese government policy in Tibet. However, applause for the perceived policy shift has been abruptly cut short in recent weeks as China continues to expand its crackdown on ethnic minorities.
According to Human Rights Watch, some 700 ethnic Chinese accompanied the Tibetans on their journey to attend the Dali Lama’s teaching sessions. However, the group stressed that there have been no reports of ethnic Chinese travelers being detained upon re-entry into China. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch believes that the travelers are being detained solely based upon their ethnicity.
In addition to extensive indoctrination sessions, the “reeducation” faced by many of the detainees reportedly will include forced denunciation of the Dali Lama as a spiritual leader. Though there has been no official word regarding the duration of the detainees’ reeducation, previous programs have typically lasted for several months. Sources cited by Human Rights Watch suggest that detainees’ families have not been notified of the detentions.
The detainment follows recent escalating unrest in the regions of Sichuan and Gansu, which both possess sizable ethnic Tibetan populations. In recent weeks, at least 15 monks are thought to have died in the two regions from self-immolation in protest against Chinese rule. An additional seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens wounded in clashes with police in Sichuan in January.
However, the recent detainees reportedly hail from areas as of yet untouched by the recent unrest. This has led some analysts to view the detainment as a preemptive move by the Chinese authorities to tighten control over the Tibetan plateau in order to prevent violent unrest from spreading to the regional capital, Lhasa.
A February 10 article in the Beijing-based newspaper, Global Times, reported that Chinese officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) had been ordered to “prepare for a war against secessionist sabotage.” The government-owned tabloid quoted Xiong Kunxin, a professor at the Minsu University of China, who explained the recent string of self-immolations as having to do with “geographic and historical factors, which made the Tibetan people [in Sichuan] more aggressive.” The professor was further quoted as he decried “less strict management” for having contributed to the “problem” as well.
Conversely, the exiled Dali Lama has blamed the self-immolations on a “cultural genocide” committed by the Chinese authorities against his people. However, he rejects government claims that he is behind the violence.
Growing unrest in the region has led China to significantly bolster its police, military and secret service presence in an effort to clamp down on dissent and tighten communist party control. For instance, the Gami Temple, which lies at the edge of the TAR, houses not only Buddhist monks, but also a local police headquarters. Such close proximity between police and local religious leaders allows for easy surveillance and control and is increasingly commonplace.
Additionally, in many parts of the region police roadblocks make travel difficult. In some towns, the authorities have even gone so far as to block all internet and telecommunications access by the local population.
In a statement released on its website, Human Rights Watch alleged that the recent crackdown has seen the largest number of Tibetan laypeople detained by the Chinese Government since the 1970s.
As a result of the authorities’ heavy-handed tactics, traditional Tibetan New Year celebrations, which the Tibetan Government in exile had called upon Tibetans to boycott, appear to have largely gone off without incident. However, some activists suggest that China’s approach may be serving to unite ethnic Tibetans against Chinese rule. Some analysts suggest that the March 10 anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule may pose more of a challenge to security forces than the innocuous new year celebrations.
China has ruled Tibet since its troops occupied the region in 1950. Many Tibetans fear that Chinese migrants and government policies are eroding Tibetan culture.
For more information, please see:
AP News — As China Clamps Down, Tibet Struggle Grows Radical — 22 February 2012
Reuters — Tibetans Mark New Year under Shadow of Immolations — 22 February 2012
Reuters — China Detaining Tibetans Returning from India – Human Rights Watch — 18 February 2012
Jurist — China Must Release Tibetan Prisoners: HRW — 17 February 2012
The Guardian — China Detains Hundreds of Tibetans for ‘Re-education’, Says Human Rights Group — 17 February 2012
The Telegraph — Hundreds of Tibetans ‘Detained and Forced to Undergo Political Re-education’ — 17 February 2012
Human Rights Watch — China: End Crackdown on Tibetans Who Visited India — 16 February 2012
The Global Times — Tibet Officials ‘Prepare for War’ — 10 February 2012